Co.Create

Why Do Companies Keep Making Offensive Pink Products "For Her"?

The ePad Femme is just the latest in a long line of ill-conceived, insulting, "female-focused" products. Here, we look into the mystery of the unnecessary genderification of gender-neutral products.

In October, the Eurostar Group introduced a product called The ePad Femme—an eReader just for women. It sells for $190, and it comes preloaded with stereotypically feminine apps, which seem to revolve around fitness, cooking, and man-pleasing. It is, of course, pink. Eurostar Group is a Dubai-based company, and the tablet received little attention in the U.S. until the past week or two, when bloggers picked up an article in the Jerusalem Post about how Eurostar was marketing the tablet as a Valentine’s Day gift. Cue the understandable outrage at such a sexist product.

This opprobrium happens every time there’s a goofy product marketed as something “for women”: Check out the Bic Cristal Pen for Her, the Della computer for women, and Honda’s car for women for debacles similar to the ePad Femme kerfuffle. And even marketers who aren’t creating a bespoke product for women seem to cling to some jaw-droppingly retrograde notions about women’s behavior vis-à-vis their existing product and women’s lives in general--witness Samsung’s embarrassing Galaxy S4 event, which featured a group of drunk ladies preoccupied with weight loss and marrying doctors.

Since the public response to the pinkification of gender-neutral products seems, at face value, to be universally negative, we were wondering, why do companies keep making these things? We asked Jonah Disend, CEO at the brand development firm Redscout, and Gina Reimann, director of industrial design at Redscout, to clue us in on why Eurostar might have created the ePad Femme.

Reimann says these kinds of products are examples of “marketing briefs gone wrong.” Disend imagined a scenario in which a company found that 60 percent of their product’s users were men, and the company wanted to remedy that. They wanted to appeal to the female market, and according to Reimann, the quick and thoughtless design fix to make something “female” is to make it pink and say it’s “for her.” “Consumers are so much more savvy and so aware they’re being marketed to,” Disend says. “They see through [the pink]. It’s insincere.”

There are products, though, that are successfully marketed to women without a backlash (or without the same level of backlash), and they even use the same silly language that products like the eFemme reader get slammed for--see Gillette’s line of Venus razors (“a choice for every goddess” gushes the online ad copy). The trick here, says Reimann, is that marketers have emphasized a legitimate, not insulting difference between women and men. Which is to say, men are shaving their faces with razors, while women are shaving their legs. Though you could easily use a “man’s” razor on your legs, it’s not insulting to say that the two acts are different from each other. Contrast that with the marketing push behind the ePad Femme. The pre-loaded apps are telling the female consumer, “we don’t think you’re smart enough to download apps by yourself.”

It’s possible to market something to women that is explicitly for women, even a gender-neutral product, successfully and without being offensive. You just need to do it with panache. Jonah Disend cites Bethenny Frankel’s Skinnygirl cocktails and wines as a great example of a product that has disrupted the market by focusing only on one half of the population. “It’s not trying to be anything else,” Disend says of Skinnygirl, “It’s very honest about it.” And consumers pick up on that.

But Skinnygirl’s outsize sales show why companies will keep making products just for women: because there’s money to be made. But to make a successful product, companies have to offer something that actually serves a purpose and they have to pay attention to the nuances of positioning the product and the product itself, instead of just the dollar signs.

[Joyful Woman Eating A Salad: Yuri Arcurs via Shutterstock]

Add New Comment

29 Comments

  • Carolina Sanchez

    I love the color pink, purple, the girly shades of any color, and any "girly" things. I love to cook, clean and take care of kids. I also love literature, arts, culture, sports, and anything that feminist consider male things (at this day and age). This doesn't bother or annoy me. I think you have to be a pretty confident individual to not be offended at anything target for women.

  • Cristina

    A confident individual (in this case a woman) does not feel insulted or threatened by a ready made gadget-like device like there are millions on the planet. We live in a commercial world which market products to sell. That's it. I can think of other many insulting and diminishing situations I am ashamed of and often they are self inflicted by the female gender (i.e "mummy porn" getting a place in the dictionary...)

  • Robin Monroe

    One last thought... why on earth does every product that is "gender neutral" have to be black, grey, white, navy blue, or saddle brown? 

    Why can't gender neutral be pink, red, baby blue, french blue, off white, pale yellow, spring green, teal, chocolate brown, peach, gold, silver, purple, seafoam, or yellow ochre? 

    I don't want to live in a world that is gender neutral. I am a woman, and I am delighted by that fact. 

  • Robin Monroe

    What in the hell is wrong with Pink? Or purple, or pale yellow, or teal, or grass green... for that matter?  I love pink. I want a pink Hummer with a Chocolate interior. My Springer spaniels would love it, and it would look great out in the field when I am bird hunting. 

    Your problem with pink - is a much larger issue then the fact that they make pink products for women. 

  • Someone

    Wow. I'm impressed at how you managed to stretch "because people keep buying them" into a full page article.

  • m

    Three words:  pink golf gloves.  Some of the worst cases of pinkification can be found in golf pro shops.  When they have a decent "selection" of items for women in the first place and then you weed out all the offensive pink crap, what's left is pretty pathetic.  I bought a set of men's "senior" clubs (the same flex as women's) and paid to have them cut down an inch rather than suffer the indignities of women's golf clubs.  That was a few years ago and things are getting slightly better but it's still awful and, oh, by the way, I hate pink. 

  • Dazed

    The above Venus packaging is unusual--the pink may be trying to illustrate "made for sensitive skin" more than "this is for women". Venus came out in the late 90s and has been varying shades of blue and green.Venus and the mens' Mach series are outrageously priced--thankfully cheaper rivals have come along in the last 13 years.But while we're talking gender in consumer products, what about Dove's moisturizer and other skin care for men in steely gray packaging? Wasn't Dove's white label existing product line good enough? 'Should they have renamed the men's version Falcon or something tougher sounding?

  • Dazed

    Offering lots of colors is something a lot of products do, the making a spectacle of that color choice and assigning it a gender is stupid. In other words, it's not the color pink so much, it's "for her" wording is the dumb, demeaning part. A lot of products are made "pink" to support Breast Cancer charities and yet they aren't offensive in that gesture. What Komen does with the money is offensive, but that's another issues for another time--thinkbeforeyoupink.org.

  • Kwon

    I think there is a difference between designing for women and what Grose is arguing here. How is what Eurostar is doing different from what Apple did? Apple banked on making technology accessible to women and children. They designed all their products that way, intentionally. This is how they differentiated themselves (and brilliantly so) from Samsung and other major tech companies that branded themselves for the experienced male tech user. Gender is a social construct and therefore WE the consumer associate meaning to it.

  • Markie Sugarmountain

    Marketers have really got women figured out. Take a look around the Internet - there are a bazillion vapid mommy blogs, fitness blogs, hairstyle blogs, makeup blogs, fashion blogs, cooking blogs. (Pinterest, anyone?) Why? Because this is what women do, this is what women want, this is what the majority of women preoccupy themselves with. They don't want literature, fine arts, or culture. They want Kim Kardashian makeup tips and advice on how to make themselves look (and behave) more plastic to catch a man.

    I think the self-righteous indignation is hilarious. Feminists (and feminist-leaning women) scream
    about being treated differently than men, then get offended and
    aggressive when they're actually treated like women - and then propose to tell people how they need to be "finessed" in order to buy a product. Jeebus.

  • dans la lune

    This comment is a prime example of the confirmation bias. "Markie SugarMountain" sees women as A) Vapid, Plastic and/or B) Angry, Feminist.
    Therefore, when Markie looks at this multifaceted thing called the World Wide Web, only "mommy blogs, fashion blogs, cooking blogs" are marketed toward women.
    Never mind the thousands of sites about "literature, fine arts, or culture." Those are clearly marketed towards masculine geniuses like Mr. Sugarmountain here.

  • Amber King

    Agree, create a product that serves a purpose. What women wanted centuries before are different from what we want now. If firms want to create products for us, research what we need first and do not generalize.

  • Mass Appeal

    How do you make a product with mass appeal if decisions made about how a user will interact with it are not generalized? Even a usability test, in which random users are selected, is a generalization of the mass population. A large corporation with big budget products can't account for everyone.

  • Mark Mercer

    Jeez, even as a man I feel insulted by these products. As a Human I feel insulted. What are these companies thinking? Or more likely, not thinking.

  • Boring.

    I think companies make women oriented products, because women buy them. Everything boils down to money, if it didn't sell you wouldn't see anymore of it. And to be honest it's just another ploy to make the consumer feel special, here we made a version of our product specifically for you. If it offends you don't buy it, if it offends enough people no one will buy it. If no one buys a product, no more of that product gets made. This "epad femme" probably won't do well anyway with new iPads and Nexus tabs rolling out in the spring and summer, so who cares in the end anyway. Pick your battles internet feminists.